Is Garlic Good for Your Lungs Illustration

Is Garlic Good for Your Lungs? (Explained)

by | Updated: Mar 14, 2024

Garlic has long been praised for its distinctive flavor and ability to add depth to a wide variety of culinary dishes. But in addition to its role as a delicious ingredient, garlic has also been valued for its potential health benefits.

And that leads to a common question:

Is garlic good for your lungs?

Research has shown that consuming garlic regularly can help to protect against respiratory infections, reduce inflammation, and even improve lung function.

I used my knowledge and expertise as a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) to explore the scientific evidence supporting the positive effects of garlic on lung health.

In this article, I will share the evidence that supports the use of garlic as a natural remedy to support the respiratory system.

Allicin Compound in Garlic

Allicin is a sulfur-containing compound that is found in garlic that is responsible for its characteristic odor and flavor.

It has been the subject of many studies due to its potential health benefits, including antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties that may help boost the immune system.

One study pointed out the antimicrobial activity of allicin-containing garlic extracts against a Burkholderia cepacia complex, which is a species of bacteria found in the natural environment.

The results found that allicin and garlic extracts have inhibitory and bactericidal effects on pathogens, including those that can affect the lungs.

Additionally, allicin is also a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects, which may be beneficial for inflammatory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Raw Garlic May Prevent Lung Cancer

Scientists believe that consuming raw garlic may help to prevent lung cancer. One study conducted in China found that people who ate raw garlic at least twice a week had a lower risk of developing lung cancer.

Another study found that aged garlic intake was inversely associated with developing cancer.

The potential anti-cancer effects of garlic are believed to be due to organosulfur compounds (i.e., allicin) and nutrients, such as selenium.

While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between garlic consumption and lung cancer prevention, these findings suggest that adding raw garlic may have potential benefits for lung health.

Nutrients of Garlic That Support the Lungs

Garlic is a highly nutritious food that is rich in vitamins and minerals, including the following:

  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps improve the body’s resistance to viral and bacterial infections, including the infections that cause pneumonia.

Research supports that vitamin C may also protect against chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung disease that blocks air flow through the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

Zinc

Zinc plays a role in inflammation, immunity, blood pressure, and how tissues respond to a lack of oxygen. Some research suggests that zinc may even help stop the rhinovirus, which is the virus responsible for the common cold.

The common cold is a viral infection that primarily affects the upper respiratory system, including the nose and throat. However, in some cases, the infection can spread to the lower respiratory system (i.e., the lungs).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties that help protect cell membranes. Scientists believe that it plays a role in preventing certain chronic inflammatory diseases.

Some researchers also believe that the anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin E may also help patients improve their forced expiratory volumes.

This explains why consuming vitamin E is believed to improve lung function, as studies found it reduces chronic lung diseases in women.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a necessary mineral for many biochemical reactions in the body and offers a variety of health benefits.

Studies found that people with chronic asthma and poor FEV1 measurements often are deficient in magnesium. This explains why some researchers believe magnesium sulfate can help relax the airways in people with severe asthma exacerbations.

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral present in water, soil, and some foods, including garlic. It functions as an antioxidant in the body and helps protect cells from oxidative damage.

Some studies suggest a high level of selenium in the bloodstream is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.

Does Garlic Improve Lung Function?

Garlic has been shown to have beneficial effects on lung function. The active compounds in garlic, including allicin, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the respiratory system.

Garlic’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help improve lung function by reducing airway inflammation and making it easier to breathe.

In fact, a study found that the dietary addition of garlic, which may increase nitric oxide synthase activity, can significantly enhance pulmonary function in smokers.

However, it’s essential to note that garlic is not a substitute for medical treatment, and anyone with lung-related health concerns should always seek medical advice from a healthcare professional.

Other Respiratory Benefits of Garlic

Some other known benefits of garlic include the following:

  • It may boost the immune system
  • It may reduce high blood pressure
  • It may reduce cholesterol

Each has indirect benefits for the respiratory system. For example, the cardiovascular benefits are important because the heart and lungs work together to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.

Additionally, a strong immune system helps fight viruses and bacteria while preventing lung infections. This includes serious infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Final Thoughts

Garlic has been recognized for its health benefits for centuries, and recent research has shown that it can offer specific benefits to our respiratory system.

This includes its ability to:

  • Reduce the risk of lung cancer
  • Prevent lung infections
  • Reduce airway inflammation
  • Improve lung function
  • Alleviate symptoms of lung-related ailments

By incorporating garlic into our daily diets, we can tap into its potent compounds to support our lung health and overall well-being.

Whether you prefer it roasted, sautéed, or raw, hopefully, you are now aware of the many benefits that can come from incorporating garlic into your diet.

So let’s embrace the power of this potent superfood and protect the health of our lungs and respiratory system.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.

References

  • Borlinghaus J, Albrecht F, Gruhlke MC, Nwachukwu ID, Slusarenko AJ. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 2014 Aug 19;19(8):12591-618. doi: 10.3390/molecules190812591. PMID: 25153873; PMCID: PMC6271412.
  • Subramanian MS, Nandagopal Ms G, Amin Nordin S, Thilakavathy K, Joseph N. Prevailing Knowledge on the Bioavailability and Biological Activities of Sulphur Compounds from Alliums: A Potential Drug Candidate. Molecules. 2020 Sep 9;25(18):4111. doi: 10.3390/molecules25184111. PMID: 32916777; PMCID: PMC7570905.
  • Wallock-Richards, Daynea, et al. “Garlic Revisited: Antimicrobial Activity of Allicin-Containing Garlic Extracts Against Burkholderia Cepacia Complex.” PLOS ONE.
  • Myneni AA, Chang SC, Niu R, Liu L, Swanson MK, Li J, Su J, Giovino GA, Yu S, Zhang ZF, Mu L. Raw Garlic Consumption and Lung Cancer in a Chinese Population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016 Apr;25(4):624-33. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-15-0760. Epub 2016 Jan 25. PMID: 26809277; PMCID: PMC4873399.
  • Miraghajani M, Rafie N, Hajianfar H, Larijani B, Azadbakht L. Aged Garlic and Cancer: A Systematic Review. Int J Prev Med. 2018 Sep 17;9:84. doi: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_437_17. PMID: 30487964; PMCID: PMC6212616.
  • Carr AC. Vitamin C in Pneumonia and Sepsis. In: Chen Q, Vissers MCM, editors. Vitamin C: New Biochemical and Functional Insights [Internet]. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2020 Jan. Chapter Seven.
  • Park HJ, Byun MK, Kim HJ, Kim JY, Kim YI, Yoo KH, Chun EM, Jung JY, Lee SH, Ahn CM. Dietary vitamin C intake protects against COPD: the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2012. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2016 Oct 31;11:2721-2728. doi: 10.2147/COPD.S119448. PMID: 27843308; PMCID: PMC5098518.
  • BMJ. “Zinc Might Help to Stave off Respiratory Infection Symptoms and Cut Illness Duration.” BMJ, 2 Nov. 2021, www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/zinc-might-help-to-stave-off-respiratory-infection-symptoms-and-cut-illness-duration.
  • Science M, Johnstone J, Roth DE, Guyatt G, Loeb M. Zinc for the treatment of the common cold: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ. 2012 Jul 10;184(10):E551-61. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.111990. Epub 2012 May 7. PMID: 22566526; PMCID: PMC3394849.
  • BMJ. “Zinc Might Help to Stave off Respiratory Infection Symptoms and Cut Illness Duration.” BMJ, 2 Nov. 2021, www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/zinc-might-help-to-stave-off-respiratory-infection-symptoms-and-cut-illness-duration.
  • Hanson C, Lyden E, Furtado J, Campos H, Sparrow D, Vokonas P, Litonjua AA. Serum tocopherol levels and vitamin E intake are associated with lung function in the normative aging study. Clin Nutr. 2016 Feb;35(1):169-174. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2015.01.020. Epub 2015 Feb 7. PMID: 25715694; PMCID: PMC4529394.
  • Kılıc H, Kanbay A, Karalezlı A, Babaoglu E, Hasanoglu HC, Erel O, Ates C. The Relationship between Hypomagnesemia and Pulmonary Function Tests in Patients with Chronic Asthma. Med Princ Pract. 2018;27(2):139-144. doi: 10.1159/000487760. Epub 2018 Feb 18. PMID: 29455196; PMCID: PMC5968247.
  • Mehdi Y, Hornick JL, Istasse L, Dufrasne I. Selenium in the environment, metabolism and involvement in body functions. Molecules. 2013 Mar 13;18(3):3292-311. doi: 10.3390/molecules18033292. PMID: 23486107; PMCID: PMC6270138.
  • Cai X, Wang C, Yu W, Fan W, Wang S, Shen N, Wu P, Li X, Wang F. Selenium Exposure and Cancer Risk: an Updated Meta-analysis and Meta-regression. Sci Rep. 2016 Jan 20;6:19213. doi: 10.1038/srep19213. PMID: 26786590; PMCID: PMC4726178.
  • Islam MN, Yadav RL, Yadav PK. Modulation of Lung Function by Increased Nitric Oxide Production. J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Jun;11(6):CC09-CC12. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2017/24650.9981. Epub 2017 Jun 1. PMID: 28764150; PMCID: PMC5535343.
  • White D. Healthy Uses for Garlic. Nurs Clin North Am. 2021 Mar;56(1):153-156. doi: 10.1016/j.cnur.2020.12.001. PMID: 33549282.

Recommended Reading